14.8.13

Penelope Fitzgerald - Offshore

Rating 6.8

Penelope, oh Penelope!

I'm not sure I know how to explain this...
But, please, let me try once for all.

Well...the thing is that I'm afraid there is something missing between us. Something which is left untold, unwritten, unread. Something that doesn't quite fit in the whole picture of a perfect writer-reader relationship.

My impression, Penelope, is that you keep most of your thoughts and emotions for yourself. There's a distance between you and me that I perceive and that I cannot accept.
It's like reading a beautifully written but ultimately cold love letter knowing that who wrote it doesn't want to let me know half of what she really feels. And I don't find it fair. I need to have my feelings involved in a romance to care about it.

Understand, I don't want to break up with you.
I do believe in this literary relationship and I wish to go ahead reading what you wrote. And yet, I think that I should try to stay on my own, far from your novels, for a little while.

Let's talk about Offshore.
When I read what you wrote, Penelope, I can't help but falling in awe with you. I mean, the idea of setting a story among the houseboat people of Battersea Reach in London in the 1960s is a stroke of genius.

I'm aware that you lived on a barge by the Thames yourself for some time and it's clear that you know the milieu you wrote about.
The way you describe the coming and going of the river tide and how it frames and shapes the daily and nightly life of the Battersea Reach community is masterful. On a funny note, the dirty fat cat either chasing or being chased by rats is a lovely touch.


But the characters, Penelope, your characters!
I mean, the human beings. You know, those bearers of words and feelings which are kind of important in a work of fiction despite of its sensational setting. Meat and bone hand in hand with hopes and fears.

How can you genuinely let a 7 year old kid talk like a grown-up?
And don't let me even start with the posh but gallant Viennese teenager stranded on a barge and loving every minute of his Swinging London experience.
Moreover, I've found the idea of calling each Battersea Reach settler with his/her own given name and - sometimes - with the one of their houseboat over the course of the entire novel rather confusing. So much that I've soon lost track of who was who. And whom did what. Which is a major problem in a 150 page book.

In my humble opinion, you could and should have written much more here in order to develop the whole cast of characters as they deserved. Novellas are not necessarily better than novels. And I feel that this is only one of the issues where you disagree with me.

Goodbye, then. Read you later.

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